South Africa’s White-Dominated Sports Teams: For How Much Longer? By Cheryl Roberts

18 May

40B7C850-12AF-4293-86EA-2D089244A37APost-apartheid South Africa is 26 years old. In our black majority and white minority South African society, much of South African sport is still very much white-saturated and white-dominated. Who is overseeing the disruption of white-dominated sport in South Africa? For how much longer is this white-domination going to continue?

Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and African Games sports representing South Africa still have several white-dominated teams. Then it’s back and forth between the national sports federation and SASCOC, in charge of delivering South Africa’s national team, for ‘clarity’ on the white-dominated team. It’s embarrassing to see South Africa represented by white-dominated sports teams. It should not be whereby national sports federations are allowed to select and present their largely white teams and say ‘this is our best national selection’.

When sports teams are white-dominated, a common reference is ‘we don’t see colour’ and ‘we select the best athletes available’. But if you ‘don’t see colour’ then how do you explain seeing the white colour amongst your athletes?

Am I race-obessessed about representation in South Africa? No, it’s not about being race-obsessed. It’s about challenging white-dominated sports federations and their provincial and national selections. I am challenging and questioning white-dominated sports teams and representation in a country where whites are the minority. What have you been doing in your sport that still allows white-domination representation?

Are you not embarrassed with your largely white representation? Do you not understand the demographics of South Africa? How can you preside over a national federation and sport at provincial level and sign off all white teams or teams with one or two black athletes here and there? And guilty of doing this are not only white officials in sport but black officials, too.

But it’s not only about white-dominated athlete representation. It’s also about national executives being white-dominated. The challenge we have with white domination of the South African sports paradigm is that most whites don’t have critically conscious minds and still hold onto their privileged mentalities. They operate and function within sports from their privileged positions and behaviours. And this impacts on how they organise and develop sport, how they make sports accessible. Then when they come up with and endorse largely white representation, they put forward the opinion of them ‘not seeing colour’. Get this! You only don’t see colour when it works in your favour and suits you not to see colour.

In this black majority, white minority South African society of ours, the focus is on not leaving out, nor marginalising the representative majority of South Africa’s people. Should the national women’s and men’s teams of football, rugby, cricket, athletics and many other sports be largely black representation, then that is about South Africa being a black majority society.

Are we going to approach 30, 40, 50 years of post-apartheid South Africa and still have white-dominated sports teams and mostly white executive committees? Should we not place a moratorium on white-dominated sports teams not being allowed to represent South Africa? There’s also the voting and decision-making at national sports level, like SASCOC. Should these white exececutive committees and those that represent white-dominated sports teams be allowed to have a say and make conributions at SASCOC level? After all, if you can’t disrupt and transform your white teams, then what contribution can you make at SASCOC level?

This should be the rule: If your sport/national sport federation is white dominated, like your senior national team is majority white then such sports should have no voting rights at SASCOC until you have TRANSFORMED your sport. And this goes for sports that have black presidents and black officials on their executive committees but their national teams are majority-white. How can black people in sport, most of whom have come out of oppressed backgrounds who know what it means to be black, oppressed and marginalised in sport, serve sports yet allow white-dominated sports teams to represent South Africa? White-dominated sports teams representing South Africa and provincially at national level are being allowed to thrive because white athletes are getting most of the opportunities and black athletes are being overlooked, ignored, maginalised.

Sports federations can come up with their arguments why their black representation is thin, too little and so few. They can justify their white-dominated sports teams as ‘being the best we have’. But how do you justify this in 26 year old post-apartheid South Africa and for how much longer will you go on justifying?


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